PART I : THE FIRST TWENTY FIVE SHADES
Two white policemen hold guns over a rabid chimpanzee, his blood squirting all over the street.
“They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” reads the caption.
That is a cartoon that came in print on page 12, New York Post, owned by Ruport Murdoch, on 18th February, 2009. If you missed that cartoon on the newly inaugurated President of the United States of the time, you could view the same on many websites except the Post, which withdrew the cartoon and apologized.
Those were the days when US economy was being dragged into a white hole. George Bush, the man who almost single-handedly led his country to the verge of that hole, was probably playing golf in his ranch and gloating about his courage to let Lehman Brothers, and the great American Dream of millions to own a home, get sucked in. Barack Obama, the new President, had just signed the first Stimulus Bill to save the business houses from going down the hole.
The dying Chimp was not drawn in mere outlines. He was painted black. His mouth was wide, thick and white, the way white cartoonists of old depicted people they called “Negroes”. A few months earlier, when Obama was campaigning for President, many whites wore T-shirts depicting him a monkey.
Some in the media made muffled noises, tried to call up the cartoonist, Sean Delonas, notorious for his prejudices. A civil rights activist here, a black priest there, a couple of people from the media made polite and appropriate sounds.
Shortly after Obama won the election, an American e-mail friend wrote to me : “Now we have a monkey couple and its brood in the White house”. He sent me a photoshopped picture of Obama, evidently cut-and-pasted from an internet site.
I replied : “Monkey couple? During the last two centuries, America had known three handsome couples in the White House : John F Kennedy with puckered eyes and a pretty brunette for a wife ; Clinton with an oval face, oral office reputation and a blonde wife who was not dumb but acted like one through the oral episode; Obama ten times better and younger looking than George Bush with a wife very pretty but for a crooked jaw”. My American friend broke off the correspondence.
Having built a rich (though in deep debt) nation over the carcasses of Red Indians (called Red, so you could to tell them apart from the Brown ones of South Asia) and the sweat and blood (and some carcasses) of black slaves, racism runs through the veins of the United States, much like casteism ( who knows which is worse?) streams through Indian artery. 2008 US Presidential election showed that racism was somewhat overrun by male chauvinism. Obama won the primaries because he was opposed by a woman (“Iron my shirt!” screamed a couple of youngsters at Hillary’s New Hampshire campaign). Obama won the presidency because any man, even a black man, was preferable to the Republican candidate who wasn’t ready to repudiate the legacy left behind by George Bush. Also because Obama’s alternative to Democratic candidacy was a woman.
In the preceding years starting 1872, 36 women, all representing minor parties, had run for president and lost miserably. As for Republican and Democratic parties, none of the forty-odd aspirants through these years even won a nomination for President or Vice President, Hillary Clinton included. Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, who won nomination to be Republican candidate was put to much ridicule – all for being a female candidate for Vice President. John McCain, Palin’s male campaign partner for the Presidential post with his incessant capacity for verbal gaffes was subjected to less media ridicule. So much for gender equality in the allegedly most Advanced nation in the world.
I get many Obama jokes, some relayed through Australia, a few directly from the US. When one of the direct ones was about Obama’s skin, I wrote back: “That joke is on me. If there are fifty shades of human skin and Obama is somewhere in the middle of it, I am five shades darker than him”. I haven’t heard from the funnyman since. Two down. The third from North Carolina seems to be more indulgent towards my comments and pointed asides.
A ‘joke’ that went viral on e-mail chains reads thus:
“A little boy said to his mother; ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’ ” . “His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!”
Don’t scoff, this is the text of an e-mail circulated by Montana’s US District Judge Richard Cebul from his courthouse chambers. That is western enlightenment for you. The judge probably has heard of the Radha-kyun-gori-mein-kyun kala (why is Radha fair while I am black) divine syndrome that our very own black-skinned Lord Krishna is believed to have suffered from.
That judicial humour also tells you what justice you could expect from some of American courts. To be fair, US Supreme Court had often – though not always – ruled in favour of emancipation and fair, if not equal, treatment of blacks. In 1923, it banned Indian (Hindu) immigration to the US on the ground that even if (north) Indians could be of Caucasian origin and somewhat light skinned, they were a mixed race, not white enough to qualify.
I am not forgetting that Kamala Devi Harris ( African-American and Indian American rolled into one) is the Attorney General of California State and is in line to be a judge of the Supreme Court. US Supreme Court has never had a black Chief Justice while several states have, In the meanwhile a black (and low-caste, if you will) retired Chief Justice of India is being constantly hounded with allegations that have never been proved. Balakrishnan certainly was not the most accomplished CJI we have had; nor had made any thundering pronouncement through his long haul at the apex Court, but there was no suggestion of corruption when he was on the bench. I have read at least three blogs by people from Balakrishanan’s own State, Kerala, making fun of his humble origin, and of the colour of his skin. One fiercely asking for his blood is a former judge of the Supreme Court, Krishna Iyer, whose decision as a vacation judge gave Indira Gandhi the opportunity, whether intended by the judge or not, to declare emergency in the Country and thereby thwart democracy.
In 1992, Rodney King, a black American on parole, was killed by four police officers and the cold-blooded murder was videotaped by a person from the balcony of his house. Despite this evidence, the officers were acquitted. The riot that followed killed 53 people. (You’re right. India is not alone in killing those demanding justice). Finally two of the officers were imprisoned and two were acquitted. A month after Rodney King died, two other decorated officers killed another black man by cracking his skull. In court they produced false evidences that he was carrying drug. Post mortem reports were tampered with. Larry Nevers, one of those who were imprisoned for second degree murder came up with a book : Good Cop, Bad Verdict.
Nevers received rave reviews and support from his white readers. Bad verdict usually went against the coloured man.
Colour prejudices could work both ways. O.J. Simpson, the black football star of the nineties, was accused of killing his white wife Nicole and her ‘white friend’Ronald Goldman, and fleeing from the scene of murder in a Bronco SUV. When caught up by the police, he threatened to shoot himself with the words “gonna go with Nicole“. Prosecution thought they had an airtight case against him with DNA reports, with those near-confessional words, and other pieces of evidence. In the murder trial, a black-majority jury acquitted Simpson. In a civil trial of Simpson for “causing damages through wrongful death”, decided by a white-majority jury, Simpson lost the case and all his fortune. Both trials happened in open courts, widely televised. Everybody knew that it was the colour of the skin, not evidence nor known facts, that decided both cases.
If you think only the semiliterate – because I can’t find a better English Equivalent to Gawar – white members of police departments in America continue to be racist and contemptuous of the blacks, make another guess. During the primary campaigns for Democratic seat in 2008, Bill Clinton, the famous ex-president who is forever busy lecturing the world had said to Ted Kennedy : “A few years ago, this guy (Obama) would have been carrying our bags.“
To be fair to the brother of the man who ended segregation in schools and buses half a century ago, that remark by Bill Clinton made Kennedy change his mind about supporting Hillary Clinton. He went on to support Barack Obama. Among the voting public, a Kennedy voice counted.
To be fair, too, Mitt Romney did not allude to Obama’s skin colour in the 2012 campaign. This, despite the fact that Mormon religion that he practised and preached had its scripture saying that darker men are dark because they were cursed by God. On the other hand, Mormons – at least some of them – claim that their prophet Joseph Smith was assassinated because he preached freedom for blacks.
The economy of the United States since its inception depended on colour discrimination – a firm division between white (pale or pink, blonde or brunette. Albinos counted depending on their parenthood ) and black (dark grey, deep brown, brown, cream, red…..absolutely anything but a few pale-pink shades that fall in white category ). This, in spite of the lofty and original proclamation in the Declaration of Independence that’s often lauded as the best sentence ever written in English language:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
If you have the impression that Abraham Lincoln was the first President to consider black slavery repulsive, you’re wrong. Most presidents of the United States of America (collectively and pompously known as the POTUS), at least the first few of them vehemently, most others condescendingly,, preached abolition but practised slavery. George Washington, the first POTUS, a story about whose truthfulness as a child is taught in many primary schools in India and who was averse to slavery to the extent that “I can only say, that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it (slavery).” Nonetheless, Washington owned more slaves (all black of the above description)than any other rancher in town. Washington was not averse to whipping them for incompetence or laziness. He did not want to “purchase another slave unless some circumstances compelled such a necessity”. History does not show how often those compelling circumstances showed up in his life. The second President, John Adams, held slavery in such abhorrence that he neither owned or purchased a slave although he lived in times “when such a practice was not disgraceful’. Even in the reign of a president with such strong dislike of slavery, the freed black men who migrated to free states could legally be re-captured by their original owners and put back in chains.
Slavery was not an issue, at any rate not the most significant issue, when the Southern states proclaimed secession and forced a war on the Union. The cause was something similar to East Pakistan seceding from West Pakistan – economic and social and regional discrimination and export restrictions. Not all confederates who volunteered to fight in the war were slave owners, not even farm owners. While many in Lincoln’s Government and outside (mostly Northerners) were staunchly for the abolition of slavery, Lincoln vacillated for what he believed to be practical reasons. To Horace Greeley, editor of New York Tribune he wrote during the war:
“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union“. In other words, if the Secessionists had agreed to stay in the Union on condition that they be allowed to keep their slaves, Lincoln would have readily agreed.
Lincoln initially announced abolition of slavery only in the Southern states – more for punishing the belligerant confederates than as a matter of lofty ideology. While in principle he might indeed have shared the disgust of the first few presidents about white man enslaving coloured man, he believed in the popular dictum that blacks were inferior and unintelligent. Lincoln had no intention to grant citizenship to all the freed slaves in the white man’s country. Some were exported to French Haiti; others to Liberia where freed black slaves had already established a colony, conveniently called “their own country”. Jefferson, the President who did not like slavery helped the French with arms, ammunition and money to the colonizers to quell the Slave Rebellion by blacks and mulattoes (mixed races). Haiti became free in 1804 after an eleven-year old struggle, summarily dismissed as rebellion (as was the one and only battle for independence that Indians fought against the British). Haiti was the second nation, after the US itself, to shake off colonial yoke. Interestingly it was a white French man, Jacques Vincent Ogé , who led that black rebellion.
The 13th Amendment, proclaiming the emancipation of slaves, was not all States ratified it immediately. A Times of India Report of 20th February 2013 states:
“It turned out that after Congress voted for the 13th Amendment in January 1864, the measure went to the states for ratification. By December 1865, the amendment had received the three-fourths’ vote it needed when Georgia became the 27th state to ratify it. States that rejected the measure included Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Ole Mississippi down south“.
However, a three-fourth majority in ratification was sufficient to pass the amendment. “New Jersey ratified the amendment in 1866, Delaware in 1901, Kentucky in 1976, and Mississippi finally rolled in by 1995“.
When the Union won the war, the black citizen won freedom to walk into penury amidst riches, humiliation in the midst of speeches of equality and freedom. Ku Klux Klan took birth around the same time; and assumed further vigour in the nineteen twenties. Confederate states enacted laws that segregated blacks in housing, schools, rail, buses, jobs and the military. They disenfranchised the blacks while even illiterate whites were allowed to vote . In the North, de facto segregation already existed. Blacks were not slaves, but not even a distant equal.
In early Nineteen hundreds – not that it has changed much since then – American attitude towards Indians (of South Asia) was shockingly similar to Bal and Raj Thackeray’s attitude towards South Indians, Muslims and Biharis in that chronological order. 1900 saw the formation of “Asian Exclusion League”, again shockingly reminiscent of Thackeray’s Shiva Sena. In 1907 Bellingham, Washington, lumber mill workers – mostly Sikhs – were attacked in their homes and work places and beaten up; many of them had to be hospitalized. Some of the victims were “corralled” in the City Hall; over four hundred of the Indians were jailed “for their own safety”. Not a single perpetrator of the crime was prosecuted.
The day after the killing, Dyer warned the people of Amritsar: ‘You have committed a bad act in killing the English. The revenge will be taken upon you and upon your children“. Dyer was tried, and at least some members on the committee of Enquiry found that “(but) there was no rebellion which required to be crushed.” Nonetheless, Dyer received awards and commendations from parliament and the public. British populace, including those living off Indian soil, congratulated him. Many years later Rudyard Kipling, the man who wrote “Jungle Book” with Indian characters and Indian locale, expressed the wish that he were a soldier who commanded the killing of a thousand more Indian rebels. Kipling justified British occupation of India as White Man’s Burden.
You wouldn’t find many Sikhs in Bellingham today; there is a remarkable number of them in Oak Creek community near Milwaukee, over 2200 Kilometres away. In August 2012, 105 years after the Bellingham riots, a White Supremacist band drummer, Wade Michael Page simply walked into a Gurudwara, Sikh Temple, with automatic guns and loads of ammunition and shot down six worshippers including a Grandhi (recitor of the scripture) and a policeman before being shot dead. His Myspace Page showed him wearing a White Power T-shirt and standing proudly in front of a Nazi Flag.
An year earlier in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, 32-year old self-proclaimed Rightwing extremist, exploded a car bomb killing eight people and injuring hundreds in Oslo. Two hours later he walked into a summer camp at a resort island and shot dead at least 69 youngsters and wounded more than a hundred. Reason? He hated Muslims. Not many of those wounded or killed could have been Muslims, for even after the massive immigration of recent years, Muslim population in that country was less than 4%. Muslims, particularly women and children, rarely attended beachside indulgences.
Both these young white Christian extremists had made public their prejudices, hatred and intention to massacre long before they went into action. They were on Facebook and hate sites, much like the Muslim clerics of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Terrorism works both ways; and ironically enough, all terrorists end up destroying their own kind most of the time.
I write on these events because the cause for the riots and/or killing was mainly the result of colour and religious prejudices . 1984 Delhi (3000 Sikhs) , 1992-93 Bombay (1000 Muslims and an unknown number of Hindus) and 2002 Gujarat (2000 in all ; 2/3rd of it Muslims) can easily make Bellingham riots seem like classroom ragging. American cops of that time would then appear like winged angels viewed against our own Delhi, Bombay and Gujarat police. On the genocide of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, her son Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister in mourning and with a “I am young; I too have a dream” message to the world, commented: “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes“. Indira Gandhi was the big tree; loss of three thousand Sikh lives merely a minor earthquake. If intellectuals in the Country found that comparison revolting, they didn’t say it in so many words. Rajiv Gandhi and his party won the next election with a record majority.
7 thoughts on “FIFTY SHADES OF PREJUDICE”
Thanks for this well researched post.
Thoughtprovoking & insightful…
Thanks, Jibi. There’s another part coming up. Do read and comment.
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